NOTHING HAS CHANGED
The Express, 6th January 2019
What terrors will arise on the morning of the 30th March if the United Kingdom does not accept the Prime Ministers Withdrawal Agreement and nothing else is on offer?
The terminology used of “crashing out” is designed to make the flesh creep in the hope of bullying people into accepting a bad deal. Expensive, with a price tag of £39 billion, while ineffective, for the backstop could leave us shackled to the European Union for a generation. The Government hoped that as those fears fructified so Members of Parliament who opposed the proposal would soften under the influence of local party members.
Those who want Brexit would be afraid that the risks of leaving without a deal would prevent any exit at all while those who want to remain were to fear the “cliff edge”. Fortunately, Conservative Association members are made of sterner stuff. The Party in the country at large is not especially ideological and is usually loyal to its leader. There is no Momentum-style movement but in the dozens of associations I have addressed I meet people who tend to be involved in other good causes. Members of Parliament listen to them because they are sensible, have no desire to lobby for a particular interest except sometimes for defence and are more driven by an ideal of public service than a policy precept.
This sense of duty makes them sympathetic to Theresa May but not slave-ish to her agreement. Indeed, a startling figure from a recent survey of members is that 57% prefer No Deal to 23% for the Withdrawal Agreement and 15% who still want to remain. This is in spite of all the threatened terrors and the dire warnings issued. The majority of Conservative members must either think that these fears are exaggerated or that is a price worth paying for leaving the shackles of the European Union.
It also shows a fundamental belief in democracy for voters in the referendum were given a choice and decided to leave and not subject themselves to a half-way house that would leave us a vassal state. This strength of feeling ought to be responded to by the leadership of the party and not stamped upon.
Reports that Conservative Central Office has threatened some Associations with special measures and is trying to stop Brexiteers becoming candidates must are troubling for it is improper for the Party to try to impose ideological uniformity on Associations. Tories believe in individual responsibility and effort not central planning and control. The centre is the creature of the localities not the other way round so it would be a perverse abnegation of our basic principles and would mean attempting to run the Party the way the Socialists seek to run the Country.
It has long been under appreciated how fortunate the Tory party is to have the membership it has. The mainstay of their local communities, hardworking activists who take on chores because they believe it is the right thing to do. MPs are elected because of their efforts and countless councils are run by such noble spirits. They are repositories of good sense and decent patriotism and a proof of Conservative values. They accept the democratic norms but in return deserve to be listened to. Even the thought that they are being pressurised to change their minds would be counterproductive. They are not lightweight flibberty-gibbets but pillars of their communities who cannot be pushed around.
Likewise the MPs, who are their standard bearers, will be more rather than less determined. During the recess I read reports that I could be open to supporting the Withdrawal Agreement and that I was even “a work in progress”. It was at this time that it was reported that MPs when outside the Westminster bubble could be persuaded to back the deal.
This never seemed likely and in my own case was wishful thinking, the backstop on its own is an intolerable failure of the negotiations. If this attempt were supposed to be bolstered by subtle or not so subtle pressure on Associations it is bound to fail and 57% of members clearly have titanium plated backbones.